A Great Need of the '90S the Prevailing Ideology in the US Emphasizes Self-Interest and Materialism, Leaving Little Room for Generosity and Public Service

By Derek Bok. Derek Bok is a former president of Harvard University. This article is excerpted from the 1992 Godkin Lecture delivered . | The Christian Science Monitor, May 22, 1992 | Go to article overview

A Great Need of the '90S the Prevailing Ideology in the US Emphasizes Self-Interest and Materialism, Leaving Little Room for Generosity and Public Service


Derek Bok. Derek Bok is a former president of Harvard University. This article is excerpted from the 1992 Godkin Lecture delivered ., The Christian Science Monitor


WHEN we consider what kind of a social philosophy we need for the 1990s, we have to ask ourselves not just what it will do for individual freedom, important as that is, and not just what it will do for the GNP. We also need to ask what effect it will have on the quality and vitality of our public life, on our ethical standards, our charitable impulses, our interest and involvement in public affairs, and our capacity to mobilize enough trust in one another to enable us to cope effectively with the common problems that face us.

We may not need a larger government. We may need a smaller government. But if we are to restore respect for government, we must accord it a truly respected place as an institution that has valuable functions to perform and deserves its fair share of our ablest people to serve in its ranks. We may not wish to legislate morality - surely not - but if we want to improve ethical standards, we should recognize that the kind of social environment we support and the kind of incentives and recognition we emphasize officially do have effects on the level of morality that our society is likely to achieve.

We certainly shouldn't force people to vote, or to be involved in their community. But we can at least attach as much importance to encouraging the duties of citizenship as we do to its rights and its liberties. It is a weakness of the prevailing ideology in this country that it does not address those issues, or even to regard them as tremendously important.

The other weakness in the prevailing ideology is that it proceeds from an unnaturally pessimistic view of human nature. It tends to treat us all as basically self-interested creatures who put private material rewards above everything else. That is why financial incentives are emphasized as the key to motivating people. That is at least one reason why so much emphasis is placed on markets, because they promise to harness our natural avarice for constructive social ends. That is why government is feared - because it may empower majorities to invade individual freedoms for their own selfish ends.

In the last analysis, no system can rely so heavily on personal gain and private ambition and somehow have it all turn out for the good. No laws, no police, no regulations, no invisible hand will ever manage to keep all of these self-interested motives completely in check or mobilize them to meet all of the needs that must be met in our society. That is why, in my view, any viable ideology that we choose for the future must give a prominent place to strengthening those aspects of human nature that are more positive, more generous, more other-regarding, more civic minded than is the pursuit of private gain. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Great Need of the '90S the Prevailing Ideology in the US Emphasizes Self-Interest and Materialism, Leaving Little Room for Generosity and Public Service
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.